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Il Cantinori

Il Cantinori

32 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003
212 673 6044
ilcantinori.com
Hours:
Lunch 12pm-2:30pm Everyday; Dinner Su-Th 5:30-11pm; F-Sa 5:30pm-11:30pm
Established: October 1983

On any given beautiful day, this restaurant is set up early in the morning and looks incredibly inviting. The windows are swung open and there are roses on every white linen table. Shut down temporarily by a fire in October 2011, Il Cantinori seems to have quickly bounced back and the people in the neighborhood feel like they “haven’t skipped a beat since they served their first Italian meal in 1983.” Part of that is because, aside from adding a few mirrors on the walls, Il Cantinori was restored to its exact pre-conflagration state. The staff saw no reason to change the décor that customers had come to adore.

Upon our arrival to Nicola Kotsoni and Steve Tzolis’ Italian restaurant, we were greeted by a waiter who had been with them for over seventeen years. We learned that he works ten shifts a week, since his customers “love him so much.” The general manager, told us that he had no idea what they would do when the beloved waiter decided to use his well-deserved vacation days.

The general manager had also been with the restaurant almost since its inception, stating that he stayed because of its attention to “consistency, quality, ambience, and service.” He went on to say that Il Cantinori “is like a ‘home’” both for the people who work and dine – “We have been open since 1983 and there is still a line out the door on some evenings.” Continuing on, the manager was pleased to announce, “And everything tastes exactly like it did in the 1980s.”

He was a terrific storyteller, seemingly unsurprised when I told him that I could listen to him all day. “I have had people tell me I should be a stand-up comedian,” he said matter-of-factly. “A reality show of this place would be amazing,” he suggested, as he had countless fun tales about his quirky Manhattan regulars -“I am from Brooklyn,” he explained, “so I grew up normal.”

Despite the fact that Il Cantinori receives many high-profile clients – Andy Warhol and Basquiat were known to be regulars – the manager insisted that “97.8 percent of the people who come here are really wonderful people – really nice.” When he told me how the “crème de la crème of New York” continue to come to Il Cantinori, he made it clear that he did not just mean celebrities, but the real New Yorkers – the wonderful people who make this city what it is.

There is a unique relationship between the staff and the network of New Yorkers who visit Il Cantinori. Everyone knows everyone: customers bring their favorite waiters Christmas presents, and on occasion, the staff has been known to walk the dogs of some of their guests. Il Cantinori will do anything for the people who dine on 10th Street. “It is really small town in a small city,” the manager explained. “People barely consider us personnel. I tell everyone they are my friends, except they pay for dinner.’”

So much to write, and I have yet to mention the food. The staff of Il Cantinori treated us to a veritable feast. While sitting in the back room flooded with afternoon light, under a whimsical black chandelier made to look like a seppie (the cuttlefish whose ink colors black risotto), members of the Manhattan Sideways team tasted a delicate squash and zucchini salad, scrumptious paella, crispy roast potatoes, green beans and asparagus, and something that the waiter rightfully called “the best pasta,” filled with peas and sausage and a light creamy sauce.

The atmosphere was perfect: we were surrounded by Nicola’s elaborate and illustrious bouquets of dogwood and cherry blossoms, that the manager told us would open into devastatingly gorgeous blooms within a few days. Of Nicola he said rather seriously, “I do not know what her parents fed her as a child, but the creative part of her brain is amazing.” Ending our spectacular meal with classic flourless chocolate cake we turned to one another and acknowledged that we now understood what the manager had boasted earlier: “People don’t come here to dine, they come here to eat.” There is no doubt that at the end of the day, the beauty of Il Cantinori is that the food and staff are always superb.